In recent rocket launches, SpaceX has wowed audiences around the globe with stunning video livestreamed by the launch vehicle itself, but the “wow” factor may be too much for US national security. During a launch earlier today, SpaceX terminated its livestream from the second stage of its rocket due to a licensing issue from NOAA. NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, is best known for its National Weather Service and National Hurricane Center. However, it is also empowered by legislation to license imaging of the Earth. Pursuant to the National and Commercial Space Programs Act (NCSPA or Act), 51 U.S.C. § 60101, et seq, responsibilities have been delegated from the Secretary of Commerce to the Assistant Administrator for NOAA Satellite and Information Services (NOAA/NESDIS) for the licensing of the operations of private space-based remote sensing systems.
In a statement released this afternoon, NOAA says, “The National and Commercial Space Program Act requires a commercial remote sensing license for companies having the capacity to take an image of Earth while on orbit. Now that launch companies are putting video cameras on stage 2 rockets that reach an on-orbit status, all such launches will be held to the requirements of the law and its conditions. SpaceX applied and received a license from NOAA that included conditions on their capability to live-stream from space. Conditions on Earth imaging to protect national security are common to all licenses for launches with on-orbit capabilities.”
NOAA didn’t elaborate on what the national security concern is, but unless the law changes, plan on more black-outs from space for future missions from SpaceX and others.
In February, SpaceX livestreamed the view in space of “Rocket Man” in a Tesla Roadster as it traveled above Earth, launched there by SpaceX’s large Falcon Heavy rocket. The images of the dummy in the car inspired countless people as it was shared millions of times around the planet. If the law isn’t changed, such views may not be possible if launch providers can’t license their video from NOAA.